Business execs, restaurants and wine vendors raise research funds for cystic fibrosis

by Nancy Peevy (npeevy@nwabj.com) 315 views 

The Wine Opener included a wine pull where, for $20, guests had a chance to win and bottle of wine or spirits.

In an effort to raise awareness about cystic fibrosis (CF) and help fund research for a cure, over 1,000 people attended the 11th annual Wine Opener on Friday (Feb. 9), put on by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Organizers hoped to net an estimated $350,000 that will go towards funding research and providing quality care for those who have CF.

According to their website, cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening, progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. Those with CF have a defective gene that causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs.

CF affects about 30,000 people across the country, with 300 in Arkansas, Diane Byram, associate executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation said.

“We probably have about 50 to 60 families that are affected by this disease in Northwest Arkansas,” Byram said.

Funds raised will help provide care centers across the country that are necessary for quality care, Byram said. The centers partner with people living with CF and their families to provide expert cystic fibrosis care and specialized disease management, so that people living with the disease can live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

(left to right) Keith and Julie Barber and Nichole Simpson and Nate Stevens. Julie Barber, vice president, DMM-merchandising manager for Walmart, and Nichole Simpson, senior wine buyer at Walmart, were honorary executive chairs for the event.

The four care centers in Arkansas are Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which provides pediatric care centers at each of their facilities in Little Rock and in Northwest Arkansas; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, and Mercy Hospital in Rogers (affiliated with UAMS), both of which provide care for adult CF patients.

Byram said when the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation began in 1956, it was considered an infant disease because children didn’t live long enough to go to elementary school. Because of the work of the foundation, people with CF are living into their 30s and 40s.

“We feel that we are very close to finding a cure, and that we will have one in our lifetime,” Byram said.

Research has come far enough that in 50% of the CF patients, doctors are able to treat the underlying cause of CF and not just the symptoms, Byram said. She believes the number will rise to 90% within the next two years.

“With all the gene editing that is going on right now we expect to see a day in our lifetime where a CF patient will walk into the doctor’s office with CF, and walk out without it,” Byram said.

Julie Barber, vice president, DMM-merchandise manager of snacks at Walmart, and Nichole Simpson, senior wine buyer for Walmart, were honorary executive chairs for the Wine Opener. Jack Links was the presenting sponsor of the event.

The committee for the Wine Opener (left to right): Lori Stevens, Janet Bade, Jennifer Kimpel, committee chair Mimi Stewart, Jenn Senter, Kelly Bullington, associate executive director Diane Byram, Kim Ruggeberg, Vicki Chalker and Sahar Meyer.

General admission tickets for the event, at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers, were $125. For $200 per ticket, guests could also a private reserve tasting before the event which included high end wines and food provided by Flint Creek Steak House at the Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs.

Guests sampled food from 15 area restaurants, including Big Orange, Local Lime, Table Mesa, Mirabella’s Table, Nothing Bundt Cake, Bonefish Grill, Copeland’s, Crabby’s and Houlihan’s. Fifteen wine vendors, including Constellation Brands, Gallo Family Vineyards, Treasury Wine Estate, Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits, Ste. Michelle Vineyards, Trinchero Family Estates, Delicato Family Vineyards, Pernod Ricard, Prestige Wine Group, Riboli Wines, and Moet-Hennessey provided beverages.

Country music duo Branch and Dean, national ambassadors for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, also performed. Steve Branch lost his 23-year-old son, Theron, to cystic fibrosis. Branch and Dean’s breakthrough hit, “The Dash,” is a tribute to Theron. The song challenges listeners to make the most of every moment between the birth and death dates that inevitably will appear on their headstone.

Local restaurants and caterers provided food for guests to sample at the Wine Opener.

During the event, attendees bid on a large selection of silent auction items and enjoyed a live auction. Live auction items included a Taylor Swift Big Reputation VIP concert experience in Kansas City, an Italian winery experience for four with accommodations in a winery castle, a celebrity meet and greet with Lisa Vanderpump, a Kentucky bourbon trip for four, a fully stocked bar and a VIP Lagunitas Brewery tour in Chicago for two.

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